Scientists create artificial muscles which could allow robots to lift 1,000 times their own weight

Constructed using 3D printing, the synthetic, rubber-like device is controlled by a small electric current and is able to expand and contract just like a biological muscle.

Developed at the Creative Machines laboratory at Columbia University in New York and partially funded by the Israeli defence ministry, the muscle could be used for surgical robots which need to grip and manipulate tools.

Researchers found it had a strain density – the density of energy stored in each gram of a stretched elastic body – 15 times stronger than that of natural muscle.

Officially called a “soft actuator”, it is able to lift 1,000 times its own weight, said the team, who have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Lead author Professor Hod Lipson said: “We’ve been making great strides toward making robot minds, but robot bodies are still primitive.

“This is a big piece of the puzzle and, like biology, the new actuator can be shaped and reshaped a thousand ways.

“We’ve overcome one of the final barriers to making lifelike robots.”

Co-author Dr Aslan Miriyev said: “Our soft functional material may serve as robust soft muscle, possibly revolutionising the way that soft robotic solutions are engineered today.

“It can push, pull, bend, twist, and lift weight. It’s the closest artificial material equivalent we have to a natural muscle.”

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